25 May 2020

Covering Phyllis Brett Young's The Ravine

I've been receiving compliments about the cover of the new Ricochet Books reissue of Phyllis Brett Young's The Ravine. Praise properly belongs to J.W. Stewart and an unknown artist.

The Ricochet series has always featured artwork from vintage covers. With The Ravine, there were several to chose from. The earliest, W.H. Allen's 1962 first edition, bought sight unseen from an Australian bookseller, was the worst. This surprised me because the cover of Young's Undine (1964), also published by W.H. Allen, ranks as an all-time favourite.

Well before the decision about the cover was made, I invited Amy Lavender Harris to write the introduction. By chance, she mentioned that she had a copy of the 1962 Longmans first Canadian edition. I'd never seen a copy. Amy has kindly shared this image:

Like the W.H. Allen, I never considered Longmans Canada's cover a contender, though I was tempted by Mein Mörder kommt um 8, the 1966 German translation.

The cover of Assault, the tie-in to the 1971 screen adaptation, was not considered.

The cover I most favoured was the first paperback edition, published in 1964 by Pan. The problem was that we had no copy and not one was listed for sale online (which is still the case). All we had to go by was a small image of a faded, battered, and stained copy.

J.W. Stewart not only restored the image, he replaced "Kendal Young" with the author's real name; something we and the estate preferred.

The question remains as to the identity of the original artist. My money is on Pat Owens. I think that's his signature in the bottom right hand corner.

The Ravine is certainly similar in style to some of the covers Owen is known to have done for for Pan, most strikingly Charity Blackstock's The Woman in the Woods (1961) and Morris West's Daughter of Silence (1963).

Sadly, they don't make 'em like that anymore.

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20 May 2020

Phyllis Brett Young's Ricochet

Copies of Phyllis Brett Young's The Ravine, the latest Ricochet Book, were delivered yesterday. I see their arrival as another sign of spring.

Number fifteen in the series, The Ravine has had an unusual history. It was first published by W.H. Allen in 1962 under the name "Kendal Young," and yet the author's true identity was exposed in an advert on the rear dust jacket.

Sadly, Psyche never made it to celluloid. The Ravine did appear on the screen – adapted bowdlerized and bastardized as Assault (1971) – but it isn't worth your time.

The Ravine is.

I knew nothing of Phyllis Brett Young until 2007, when McGill-Queen's University Press revived her 1960 novel The Torontonians. The next year, it brought back, Young's Psyche (1959).

This new edition of The Ravine joins MQUP's reissues in shining light on a writer to be celebrated.

As Ricochet Books' Series Editor, my thanks go out to Valerie Argue, Phyllis Brett Young's daughter, who granted permission for its reissue. I thank Amy Lavender Harris for providing a very fine introduction.

The first new edition in forty-nine years, it's long overdue.

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07 May 2020

Not to Be Confused with Jesus of Montreal

Josie of Montreal
Florian Delorme
Montreal: Bodero Editions, [1969?]
126 pages

Porn seemed to be everywhere when I was a child. It was sold at the bookstore in the Beaconsfield Shopping Centre and at Gerard's, the local bakery at which my mother bought our pumpernickel. The United Cigar Store in the Fairview Mall displayed Beeline paperbacks right next to the latest issues of MAD, Cracked, and Crazy. As a nine-year-old, I couldn't help but notice.

Published by Beeline in 1972, Back-Door Swappers had appeared previously under the title Once Upon an Orgy. It would later be repackaged as Best Laid Friends and Thrills with Lil. The history of Josie of Montreal isn't nearly so well documented. I'm afraid I won't be able to add much, though I can ward off a misconception that might arise from its cover.

Florian Delorme had nothing to do with Après-ski, which was published in 1966 by Montreal's Éditions du Belier and was written by Philippe Blanchont. It's back cover provides this bold description:
Un roman basé sur les faits authentiques de la liberté sexuelle qui se déroufe sous prétexte dans nos centres de villéglalure canadiens. Pour la prémiere fois un écrivain à la courage de donner a la littérature canadienne française un exposé, qui, sans doute, consternera les derniers vestiges de notre société purîtane.

Because I haven't read Après-ski, I can't speak to the veracity of the publisher's claims. And yet even before reading Josie of Montreal, I knew its cover copy to be a lie:

Josie of Montreal was not a runaway best seller. My copy, in which this claim is made, is the first and only edition. An uncommon book, it's held by Library and Archives Canada, the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the University of Alberta, and Simon Fraser University. All of two copies are currently listed for sale online.

It took some time to get through Josie of Montreal. The novel is a difficult read, not because it challenges – as, say, Nabokov's The Gift or Tull's Untitled – but because incest and paedophilia feature. I won't argue with anyone who suggests necrophilia plays a part.

You may not wish to read further.

The titular character is a fifteen-year-old orphan who lives with Joseph, her sexagenarian grandfather, in Plateau-Mont-Royal. Joseph lusts after Josie, and keeps a poster-size photograph of her, in bikini, on his bedroom wall. Josie teases by trying to slip him the tongue with each goodnight kiss, and asking questions about sex:
"Grandpa, what does it mean, sixty-nine? The other girls talk about it and they laugh. I don't know what is it but I laugh. I'd like to know, just in case. Suppose they ask me to explain what it is... I feel stupid."
Joseph believes his granddaughter an innocent, when in fact she's been sexually active since the age of twelve. The novel's first sex scene involves Jeanne, a classmate who misses the genitive pleasures she once received from her mother. Laurent, Robert, and Pierrot get together with Josie on a daily basis, each taking his turn as Jacques pleasures himself with her discarded panties.

Of course, there's much more sex, as one might expect in a 126-page novel. In this scene, Josie throws herself – quite literally – at Jean, a plasterer working in Joseph's home:
The bold maneuver turned the trick and blew away the man's fears. Panting, breathing hard, he wildly plunged his hand inside the dress which fell slowly to the floor. Jean lifted Josie and he threw her on the bed.
     — Hey, get up! Josie said, giving the plasterer a feeble slap on the cheek. You'll fall asleep.
     Everything had occurred according to plan, completely, rapidly, vehemently and Jean was still dazed.
Jean is dazed. The reader is dazed. What just happened?

This later scene, in which Joseph and his friend Albert hire two teenage prostitutes during a trip to New York, is similarly vague:
Joseph and Albert undress. The girls wash them. They find it odd because they're not used to prostitutes. Funny, the girls don't act like whores. They are outspoken, gay. Alfred says he has no money, Joseph carries the dough. How much? How much do you have? Thirty dollars! That'll do. Give. Joseph gives. Tomorrow, come again? No. We're leaving town. Too bad.
     They leave the house smiling like two college boys having copulated for the first time. 
The week that Joseph spends in New York, leaving his granddaughter alone is the house, is described as the most marvellous of Josie's life. "Never had she been so free, never had she enjoyed such a sustained thrilling sex life." The adolescent love of the cover copy does not feature in the novel. Josie loves no one, and comes to hate her grandfather for being the one man she cannot seduce. After he returns, she enlists Laurent, Robert, Pierrot and Jacques in plotting his murder.

"There have been few heroines more fascinating than Josie, nor heroes more compelling than her incredibly virile 68-year old [sic] grandfather."

Sadly, this is just another publisher's lie.

A mystery: Josie of Montreal appears to be a translation of Les deniers émois, which was published in 1968 by Éditions du Belier. Or is it that Les deniers émois is a translation of Josie of Montreal? The latter has no date of publication, but it does feature this copyright notice:

Les deniers émois provides a 1968 copyright listing Éditions du Belier as its holder. While Library and Archives Canada makes no link between the two novels, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec not only records Josie of Montreal as a translation of Les deniers émois, it lists its publication date as 1969, and has it that Florian Delorme is a pseudonym.

I'm not sure I care enough to dig deeper.

Fun fact: Josie of Montreal was never adapted to the screen, but Après-ski was! I was surprised to see it included a who's who of vedettes québécoises, including the late René Angélil. Released in 1971, the film is also known as Sex on Skis, Winter Games, and Snowballin'.

Object and Access: A slim mass market paperback. The cover, every bit as accomplished as that of Après ski, is credited to Robert Hennen. The cover of Les deniers émois is credited to R. Henen. The cover illustration is signed Hénen. Take your pick.

As mentioned, two online booksellers offer copies. The cheapest, "very good plus," can be had for US$6.00. The other, "a near to perfect copy," is listed at US$85.00. You know which to buy.

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20 April 2020

A Fine Cure for Brain Fag: Earlier Opinions of Hopkins Moorhouse's Every Man for Himself

Further thoughts on Every Man for Himself, the subject of last week's post.

I first learned of Every Man for Himself through "Canadian Crime Writing in English" by David Skene-Melvin, one of thirteen essays on Canadian crime fiction, television, and film included in the anthology Detecting Canada (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2014), edited by Jeannette Sloniowski and Marilyn Rose. Skene-Melvin says little about Every Man for Himself other than it is "set along the North Shore of Lake Superior." In fact, the better part (and best part) of the novel takes place in Toronto.*

Bookseller & Stationer, April 1920
Never mind, it's mere existence as a 1920 mystery with a Canadian setting was enough to get me interested. Was there even another?

Further investigation found that Every Man for Himself had received heaps of praise in its day, much of it having to do with the author having set the novel in his home and native land:
Many Canadian writers like to tell a story of any country but Canada. They seem to forget that nothing better can be offered than a background of our own country. Not so Hopkins Moorhouse, author of "Every Man for Himself." It is a yarn punctuated with some rapid-fire detective work and a real romance — the whole thing is put together with a skill of a Victor Hugo.
Bookseller & Stationer, August 1920 
This book is not intended for the school library but is a wonderfully good story, full of action — a fine cure for teacher's "brain fag."
The School, September 1920 
A bully of a Canadian novel of mystery, romance and political intrigue, with a smashing climax ... The local color of this novel, so thoroughly Canadian in its setting and tone is one of the most fascinating features.
The Grain Growers' Guide, 8 December 1920 
The book is a sit-up-till-you-get-to-the-last-word work, fresh as a new pin with a characterization wholly Canadian. 
The Canadian Railroader, 5 February 1921
The most greatest praise is found in the 10 August 1920 edition of Windsor's Border Cities Star. A remarkable review, it's worth quoting in full:
"Every Man for Himself." It might mean something serious. You might open the cover. The story starts in Toronto. It is 4 a.m. with the wee sma' hours dying around you but you have read the last word not noticing the time pass. How does an author manage to accomplish this with a reader? Hopkins Moorhouse, who wrote "Every Man for Himself," accomplish it with overwhelming plot with a dash of style as keen as a rapier in action, It is a plot as distinctive as any written by Conan Doyle. It is entertainment fashioned for all people. The college girl, the farm hand, the business man, the sport enthusiast, and Sir George Foster or Premier Drury would find in it equal pleasure. It is so unusual that a big motion picture company in Los Angeles, Cal., has offered Mr. Moorhouse five thousand dollars for the motion picture rights. He is holding out for just two thousand five hundred more than that, and will get it. This Canadian author knows what he is worth.
     This novel, his second, is a scenario of action worthy of Dumas, with a French nearness to life, a Gallic skill of intrigue. As a matter of fact Mr. Moorhouse has French blood in his veins, and he rivals in his writing the cleverest of the race. But while the skill displayed in the book is worthy of the masters of entertainment, its setting is entirely Canadian and its types. Tom Edison would leave aside his next invention, to read it. It is this quality that will make Hopkins Moorhouse with his next two or three books Canada's most popular novelist. "Every Man for Himself" is not "ought-to read" stuff; it's the kind you cannot help reading whether you ought to or not. It carries the charm of the outdoors, the intimacy of Canadian politics and extraordinary type of Canadian heroine, the matched wits of big business men, the young man learning the game of life – a constant interweaving of different elements, situations and flashing change.
     Jot down the name Hopkins Moorhouse in your notebook. It will be the most prominent name among Canadian novelists within five years. To get read evidence of this and enjoy the most enthralling book of the season, read "Every Man for Himself," which has just been published and is Mr. Moorhouse's second book to date.
     "Deep Furrows," was his first, a story of facts picturing the struggles of the Western farmer – a wonderful book and serious reading. "Every Man for Himself," is entertainment, a story for story's sake. a book you cannot put down, a tale of plot, action and speed, a keenness and piquant knowledge as distinct as is found in the works of Arnold Bennett. One taste of the first chapter and you consume to the end. It's as irresistable [sic] as possum to a darky; a concoction inspiringly pleasureable [sic] for the multitude.
     There is no story you have read that is like it. In his descent Mr. Moorhouse carries a liberal dash of courtly French blood. French authors have combined plot and unusual writings as those of no other race in the world, and this is exactly what Mr. Moorhouse has done in "Every Man for Himself," – staging it in Canada with Canadian types.
Rambling, repetitive, drunken... but ignoring the bit about the book being "as irresistable as possum to a darky," who wouldn't like to receive such a review? As sufferer of brain fag myself, can you blame me for splurging on an old copy of Every Man for Himself?

Can you imagine my disappointment?

I'm banking on Every Man for Himself ending up as my most disappointing novel of the year.

Here's hoping.

* Curiously, Skene-Melvin makes similar mistakes with other novels I've covered: "In 1946, Margery Bonner (Mrs. Malcolm Lowry) set her The Shapes That Creep in Vancouver, and Jane Layhew chose Montreal as the scene for her Rx for Murder." In fact, The Shapes That Creep takes place entirely in Deep Cove, BC ("Deep Water" in the novel). Jane Layhew's Rx for Murder is set in Vancouver and its surroundings. Skene-Melvin goes on to write that E. Louise Cushing's 1953 mystery Murder's No Picnic features "Inspector MacKay of the Toronto Police Department." It does not. What's more, the novel takes place in Montreal and the Laurentians.

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14 April 2020

A Foggy Night in Hogtown

Every Man for Himself
Hopkins Moorhouse [Arthur Herbert Moorhouse]
Toronto: Musson, 1920
342 pages

Before we get into the action, the author's foreword dismisses any suggestion that this is a roman à clef. "The present pages are purely fictitious," writes Moorhouse, "and the characters therein not even composite portraits of living personages."

It's the sort of notice typically appended to romans à clef. Sadly, this student of Canadian history didn't recognize any of the novel's characters as having been based on actual people; it wouldn't have saved the novel, but would've made it a hell of a lot more interesting.

The first we encounter is Phil Kendrick, the novel's protagonist. A likeable lad, he's newly graduated from U of T, at which he was both an honours student and a Varsity rugby star. Phil lives with his beloved aunt and uncle, Dolly and Milton Waring, on Toronto's Centre Island. In fact, Every Man for Himself opens with the young man returning home after having wasted a day and more palling around town with an old college buddy. Phil's mode of transportation – a canoe retrieved from the Canoe Club boathouse – is surrounded by fog, but he's confident that he can find his way across he harbour. Just as Phil touches shore, a woman jumps in and tells him to keep quiet. Men's voices are heard. A launch speeds past. It soon becomes clear that she's mistaken Phil for someone else. When the woman realizes the mistake, she demands he take her back to the city. She says she has a gun pointed in his direction. Phil can't make her out, and doesn't believe her, but is good enough to do as instructed.

Toronto Harbour and islands in 1923
It isn't until three 'o'clock (and the book's thirty-second page) when Phil finally arrives home. He's surprised to find the library in disarray and his uncle slumped over a desk. Milton Waring isn't dead, or even roughed up, rather he's exhausted.

Every Man for Himself is no murder mystery. Intrigue revolves around Uncle Milton's role as a member of the provincial government and a $50,000 campaign contribution made by a shady construction company. The money goes missing and all sorts of people take to its trail.

This reader wasn't at all interested in joining the chase, yet I stuck with it as the action moved from Toronto along the tracks of the Canadian Lake Shores Railroad to Algoma. Phil captures a thief, does battle with bootleggers, rescues a plucky newspaperwoman, and befriends an Icelandic couple named Thorkalson.

(The plucky newspaperwoman and Mrs Thorkelson are the novel's lone female characters. No points for guessing which of the two jumped into Phil's canoe that foggy night.)

A sophomoric effort,  there's much to dislike about Every Man for Himself – the plot is nonsensical, characters are forever explaining things to themselves and each other – but what bothered this reader most is that Phil and the newspaperwoman aren't its heroes. After all their hardships and struggles  the crook behind the questionable campaign contribution is brought down between cigars and scotch enjoyed by Toronto's captains of industry, transportation, and finance in the cozy warmth of Milton Waring's Centre Island home. They are: Benjamin Wade, President of the Canadian Lake Shores Railroad; Timothy Drexel, Director of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company; Nathaniel Lawson, founder of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company; and, of course, the Honorable Milton Waring himself. Each an upstanding and generous businessman, I list them because they are as unfamilar today as in 1920s Canada.

No, Every Man for Himself is not a roman à clef.

Favourite passage:
She was the first girl he had ever fancied he might like to go and talk to once in a while, just for the pleasure of — well, chumming with her. It wasn't a good thing for a fellow who had no sister not to have a girl chum. She was— oh, what a peacherino of a girl she was!
Trivia: According to the Bank of Canada's inflation calculator, $50,000 is equal to roughly $636,000 today.

Object and Access: A solid hardcover with dark brown boards, lacking dust jacket. I purchased my copy late last December from an Ontario bookseller. Price: C$20.00.

Print on demand vultures are all over this one, demanding prices that rage from US$13.72 to US$43.99. Hidden within their online offerings is one – and only one – listing for the Musson edition. At US$18.00, it's described by the bookseller as "First (No Additional printings)," but the image provided (right) suggests otherwise. It's boards are a much lighter brown than my copy.

Anyway, it's a bargain.

Held by Library and Archives Canada and twenty-three of our academic libraries. The ever reliable Toronto Public Library has two copies.

The novel is available online – here – thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive.

Note: Inspiration to read Every Man for Himself came from The 1920 Club.

By far the finest Canadian novel I've read from that year is Basil King's The Thread of Flame.


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12 April 2020

Atypical Easter Verse by Agnes Maule Machar

For this Easter Sunday, 'In Memoriam—H.W.L., A Noble Teacher' by  Agnes Maule Machar, "first of Dominion poetesses." It is a celebration of a holy day, a celebration of faith, and a memorial to a beloved teacher. The version below is taken from Lays of the 'True North' and Other Canadian Poems (Toronto: Copp, Clark, 1899), in which the poet provides a note identifying "H.W.L." as "Hannah W. Lyman, first Principal of Vassar College, New York State, and previously an esteemed teacher in Montreal, Canada."

I admit to having being confused when I first came upon this poem; it was my understanding that Agnes Maule Machar's father, Presbyterian clergyman John Machar, had been solely responsible for her education. Further investigation revealed that daughter Agnes had spent one – and only one – year at Ipswich Seminary, a Montreal boarding school run by Miss Lyman.

Though a Montrealer – born, bred, and educated – it wasn't until recently that I'd so much as heard the name Hannah W. Lyman. Henry James Morgan's wonderful two-volume Types of Canadian Women and of Women Who Are or Have Been Connected with Canada (Toronto: William Briggs, 1903) – source of the images used in this post – speaks to her importance and influence on the city:
Miss Hannah Willard Lyman, a successful and inspiring teacher of youth, was born at Old Northampton, Mass., in 1816, and died at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where she was vice- principal of Vassar College, February 21st, 1871. She commenced to teach at Gotham Academy, Maine, and she subsequently taught in Mrs. Gray's Seminary for Young Ladies at Petersburg, Virginia. For the next twenty-two years she conducted a seminary for young ladies, in Montreal, which took the lead of all similar institutions in the Canadas. Her natural gifts, amounting almost to a genius for her profession, were enriched by an education of no ordinary range. She was a sister of Rev. Henry Lyman, a missionary, who was murdered by the natives in Sumatra in 1832, and whose life she has written {New York: 1857); also of the late Lieut.-Colonel Theodore Lyman, and the late Colonel S.J. Lyman, of Montreal. The Rev. Dr. Campbell, in his "History of the St. Gabriel Street Church, Montreal," says that "the name of Miss Lyman is yet as ointment poured forth in many hearts and homes, not only in Montreal, but all through Canada, for the blessed influences which she exerted as an instructor of young ladies." A memorial of her is preserved in McGill University by the "Hannah Willard Lyman Fund," raised by subscriptions from her former pupils, and invested as a permanent endowment to furnish annually a scholarship or prizes in a college for women affiliated to the university, or in classes for the higher education of women. Her remains were brought to Montreal and laid in Mount Royal Cemetery.
Sadly, it seems the memorial preserved in McGill University is no more.

A remarkable woman. Would that I could've visited her gravesite this Easter, but in this time of crisis it's closed for all but essential services.


      'Tis once again the Eastertide,
            So bright, so full of summer calm;
      So fair the quiet waters glide,
            The air so full of fragrant balm,
      That earth and sky and crystal tide
            Seem chanting sweet an Easter psalm;
      So, to her risen Saviour-King,
      Methinks—a ransomed earth might sing. 
      How brightly in the sacred chain
            Of thoughts that with the season blend,
      Thy well-known image shines again
            In memory's light, beloved friend!
      Though now we seek thy smile in vain,
            Our converse hath not here its end;
      So linked art thou with this blest day
      Thou scarcely seemest passed away! 
      Thine Easter song shall sweetly flow,
            Unmingled now with loss or pain,
      And we in shadow here below
            Can almost hear the joyous strain;
      For 'Worthy is the Lamb,' we know,
            Is evermore the glad refrain;
      How, in the sunshine of His grace,
      Must thou rejoice to see His face! 
      We still must keep the feast below,
            Partake the sacramental wine;
      Thou needest no memorials now
            In presence of the Living Vine.
      Yet, though our tears will have their flow
            We would not at thy gain repine;
      For our communion still shall be
      With thee—through Christ in Him with Thee! 
      We know not what new realms of thought
            Have opened to thine eager gaze;
      We know not how thy soul is taught
            The knowledge of God's hidden ways;
      How problems once with mystery fraught
            Now fill thy heart with grateful praise,
      While we must wander still and wait
      In the dim light without the gate! 
      But well we know thy longing heart
            Hath seen fulfilled its sweetest dreams;
      Hath found its ever-blessed part
            In that deep love whose gladsome beams
      It sought afar—as seeks the hart,
            Athirst, the crystal-flowing streams,
      Now, bathing in that glorious tide,
      At last, at last is—satisfied!
      Well—though we cannot grasp the bliss
            That fills thy cup of gladness there,
      Nor know what we shall gain or miss
            In life that tends—we know not where,
      We may go forward, knowing this—
            Who cared for thee for us will care—
      And, in the 'many mansions,' we
      At last shall share thy rest with thee. 
      But while on earth shall lie our lot,
            We cherish still the thought of thee;
      The living lesson thou hast taught
      Of faith and hope and charity.
      The life with patient labour fraught,
            From self and selfish aims set free;
      A power our slower hearts to move,
      To follow in thy path of love! 
      We thank God for thy life below,
            We thank Him for the quiet rest
      Of which such toilers only know
            The sweetness, when at length possessed.
      The words that here thou lovedst so,
            In whose fulfilment thou art blest,
      Those words of comfort, still and deep,
      We softly murmur while we weep:
      'He giveth His beloved sleep!'
Wishing all a Happy Easter.

Stay healthy.

Stay safe.

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